Friday, May 7, 2010

Day 127- Omar Khadr

Dear Mr. President,

I don't know Omar Khadr. I don't know his crimes, his history or the circumstances surrounding his arrest and detention. I don't have any opinion about his guilt or innocence. I know one thing, only one thing for sure, about Omar Khadr; on the day of his arrest by US soldiers 8 years ago, he was 15 years old. I don't need to know anything else, Mr. President. I don't need to know who he allegedly killed or how he confessed to the crime of participating in the losing side of an ugly war. I don't need to know these things because it is simply inexcusable for us to treat a child this way. A child who was wounded and nearly dead when we arrested him and tortured him and convinced him that he would suffer even worse if he did not confess.

I've been 15. We've all been 15. And I'm not claiming that going to war or throwing grenades is just some adolescent stage that Khadr would have outgrown, but, by now, he has certainly lost his best chance at growing up into something better. There are legal and political arguments to be made about the rules of war and what is acceptable conduct, but we're talking about a child, who was surrounded by political upheaval, facing an invading army (right or wrong, it is what we are,) with better weapons and better armor and better training, and who, allegedly, threw a grenade; there is a higher moral argument to be made against calling that a "war crime." He should have spent the last eight years in school, not in prison. While his actions have consequences that must be acknowledged, this country has a moral obligation to demonstrate, to the world, the way a responsible superpower conducts itself. I don't believe for a second that you need to be told this, sir, but a responsible superpower does not behave this way toward children. There is simply no crime this boy could have committed to warrant the treatment he has received at American hands. This is why people hate us. It makes us less safe, it generates more anti-American sentiment, and it's just wrong.

You promised to close Guantanamo Bay, and that has not happened. We have had no explanation for this failure, no apology for the broken promise, and no indication that it will be fulfilled in the future. The people who voted for you are entitled to these answers, Mr. President, and if you cannot give them, you can at least ensure that Omar Khadr's treatment and trial are fair, just, and conducted with due consideration of his age at the time of his arrest. It is a small mercy that should be given, not out of symbolism or political expediency, but because, in this instance, we have behaved appallingly, and there will be no rectifying it until we say so.

Respectfully yours,



  1. 0mar's age and citizenship is not a guarantee aganst being held to account for his actions.He is being treated fairly.Suggest your compassion for this terrorist thug is misplaced.Try sparing some for the family of the soldierwho died at 0mar's hands.

  2. While I never cited his (Canadian) citizenship as a reason to treat him any differently, I think his age IS an important factor; we treat children who commit crimes differently than we do adults. I never sai this should mean he shouldn't be held accountable, either. You state that he is being treated fairly when, from testimony given by witnesses, it sounds like he's been tortured. Do you have access to inside infrmation that allows you to contradict this with such certainty? As for the soldier that he ALLEGEDLY killed in battle, I don't have to spare any of my compassion for his family to also have compassion for this boy. Compassion is easy to give to the victims of this war, and I would include Omar Khadr among them.

  3. I like your letter to the President, Kelsey. If you haven't read Michelle Sheppard's book, "Guantanamo's Child", I think it would confirm your belief that there is no contradiction between feeling compassion for Sgt. Speer and his family and fellow soldiers and feeling compassion for Omar Khadr. The Wikipedia article is also excellent.

    By Michelle's account, Sgt. Speer was a true hero who served his country, and a fine man who risked his life to save two Afghan children not long before he died. Nobody could not have compassion for his grieving family and comrades and the loss suffered by his young children. It's more difficult to explain why we should feel compassion for a boy accused of killing him.

    Omar Khadr's father was an Egyptian Canadian, a professional man, who became immersed in Afghan humanitarian causes when the Russians invaded. He was suspected of using his humanitarian work as a cover to finance the bombing of the Egyptian embassy in Pakistan, and the Taliban after the Americans invaded.

    Omar Khadr's father moved his young family from Canada to the Afghanistan region when Omar was four years old and they returned to Canada on occasion.

    Every one of the Khadr sons were affected by the Afghan insurgency. The youngest was paralysed at age 14. He was with his father when he was killed in a Pakistani raid.

    The oldest son faces charges of facilitating arms sales to the Taliban.

    Omar, the third son, was kept away from the training camps and the fighting by his mother, but in the summer of 2002 when Omar was fifteen, his father allowed him to travel with an associate to act as a translator. That lead to Omar's involvement in the insurgency and the fight with the American military.

    The second oldest son was captured not long before Omar, when he was 19. He hated the life in Afghanistan and saw his capture as a ticket back to Canada. He willingly informed on his family and their friends told the Americans everything he knew. He says he was a spy for the CIA. He was released long ago.

    The women of the Khadr family seem oddly part of two worlds, while not belonging in either. The oldest daughter reminds me of a cross between a feminist and an Islamic fundamentalist, if such there could be.

    Omar is charged with committing a "war crime" which most legal experts say does not exist, killing a soldier in a war. See an article on the Huffington Post by military lawyer, Lt. Col. David Frakt.

    Omar joined a war that the people around him including his parents were fighting in and/or believed in. He was reported to be "non-radicalized" and "salvageable", providing he didn't spend much longer at Guantanamo among the adult prisoners. That was a few years ago. If only he'd been treated according to the international law on minors in armed conflict. But he still deserves a chance.